Friday, December 16, 2016

Overkill

It's been a long time since I last posted a review here (over a year *gasp*).  Truthfully, I haven't written many reviews in that time period, but I think I still have a sense of what I'm doing.  Today I shall be reviewing "Overkill" by Rob Butler.  This sci-fi flash fic comes out of the fifth issue of the Scottish magazine Shoreline of Infinity.  You can purchase the issue here.

"Overkill" is written in 1st-person plural.  It's a move I appreciate, and it gives a very eerie feeling to the piece.  It feels like there's a cohesive protagonist, yet the viewpoint comes from a group.  The members are simply so battered and lotless that they work as a collective just as well as any individual protagonist.  I love how limited the group's development is.  There's enough for a good glimpse into the members' lives, but not enough to disrupt the impact of the final few paragraphs of the story.  One character is named, and he's given a small bit of personality.  It's unclear whether he's part of the collective or not.  Working in 1st-person plural, it's difficult to distinguish if a sentence like "Joe opened the door" (not from this story) implies that Joe is not part of the collective or if he is simply being named by the remainder of the collective.  But I digress.  The mouthpiece of this story, a nameless old man the collective encounters, has a basic mold to his character, yet he remains a gripping force.  His manner of speaking is direct and descriptive, and unless one holds it under the light for too long, it's quite entertaining.

There's very little plot in the "present" of this story.  The little that's there is intriguing and works well with the characters and setting.  Most of the plot comes from the old man's recounting of past events.  His tale is brief, but it is satisfying.  It gives the setting a shape that carries the weight of the story and gives it value.

There's some level of tropiness to the setting of "Overkill."  I can't say that I've never seen it, and I can't say that I haven't written something in a similar vein.  In fact, I just wrote a story recently that shares some characteristics with this story.  It's the execution of the setting that makes "Overkill" stand out.  Perhaps after several read-throughs this story would lose its luster, but, being a man who rarely reads something more than twice, it works well for me.  This story deals with some philosophical questions that are fun to think about, even if they are slightly grim.

It is the seamlessness to the characters, plot, and setting of this story, along with its general writing style, that makes it so enjoyable, I think.  This is typically what I look for, especially in flash fiction, and "Overkill" definitely delivers, despite a short length.  I recommend paying the few dollars to buy the fifth issue of Shoreline of Infinity to read this story and the several others contained in a high-quality Scottish bundle.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Konibar

            It began as silence.  Then, one pale tenor cried out.
            A second, a third, a fourth blended into the throng, until the voices numbered ten billion, and the first fell away into weeping.
            After a thousand years, Konibar claimed the Cup again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Essay Exhibit for Intro to Digital Humanities

My final essay for Intro to Digital Humanities is written on the subject of low-tech digital poetry and fringe art.  To be clearer, my essay discusses the use of basic computer programs and digital documents to produce digital poems or other forms of artwork that, while not precisely poems, contain some poetic values.

Some of the digital poems produced for the Digital Poetry course in which I am enrolled fall into my definition of low-tech digital poetry.  In the following Jing video (screencast), I will be briefly highlighting some of my work for the class and some of the work of my classmates.  I had to rush through the poems to keep the video short, and some are not shown in their entirety.  Unfortunately, there isn't much time to delve into these poems during the live exhibit, but I have hyperlinked to them below so that you can look at them later.  As you watch this Jing video, notice the different ways in which digital poems may be produced using methods as simple as .txt files or Prezi.

Essay Exhibit Jing (Note: You may want to hold Ctrl/Command and scroll to fit the whole video on your screen.)

Digital Poems Included in Jing (in order of appearance):

"Pain Changes" by Montana Mang

"Don't Worry" by Emily Moore

"Oh, What Are You Doing, And Where Are You Going?" by Patrick Stahl

"Save Changes" by Jonas Kiefer

"Lightly Worn" by Patrick Stahl

Now, quickly explore these two digital poems yourself:

"Dashed" by Patrick Stahl

"Seeking a release from the monotony" by Sean T. Jackson

The Jing video you just watched contains poetry made with Prezi, Jing, HTML, Excel, Notepad, and a few other basic computer applications (in the case of "Don't Worry"). Consider how each of these basic technologies affords the ability to create digital poems without very much technical training. The final two poems I asked you to explore yourself use .pdf files ("Dashed") or blog posts+videos+an audio recording ("Seeking..."). What impact is there on poems that require users to interact with documents that may not be so sleek as Flash or HTML?

If you have a moment (though you probably don't), check out my latest, tiny digital poem. It uses basic HTML and CSS coding and consists of just three pages.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trope on a Rope: A Hypertext Narrative

I'm linking over to one of my other blogs yet again today.  Please check out my new hypertext narrative "Trope on a Rope."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Two More Multimedia Projects

First, check out my third digital poem of the semester, "Lightly Worn."

Then, listen to this song.  Read the description to figure out what's going on.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fast Fashion: A Digital Poem

Head over to one of my other blogs, Cybernetic Steppe, to check out my second digital poem of this semester: "Fast Fashion: A Digital Poem."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Teaser For An Upcoming Project

"What is Fire Yrecken?"


Fire Yrecken is a little bundle of monthly randomness to be published on the 1st of each month. It will include such items as flash fiction pieces, editorials, historical essays, poetry, photography, and reviews.

Fire Yrecken is sponsored by Into the Ravenous Maw, the blog of Patrick Stahl. Most of the content of each issue will be produced by Stahl. (Yes, he is currently writing in the third-person.) All photography is supplied by Staff Photographer Zachary Shenal.

There is no proper term to describe Fire Yrecken. Call it a creative experiment, if you must call it by anything other than its proper name. It is composed through a modification of Microsoft Publisher’s Business Newsletter template, though it is hardly a newsletter, as you shall see if you read on.

If Fire Yrecken seems quirky, Stahl is doing his job well.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Blogging Elsewhere, A Hyperlink

I am entering into a new field this semester called the "Digital Humanities."  During my studies for my second major, Multimedia and Digital Culture, I will be studying DH extensively. Click here to get a basic idea of what DH is, as I define it.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Blogging All Over the Place

I am now an author on three Blogger blogs.  I managed to get through last semester by just using tags on this blog for a class, but this semester I had to start two new blogs for two of my courses.

For my Digital Poetry class, I will be using Cybernetic Steppe.  The content of the blog, I believe, will be exclusively digital poems/links to digital poems of my creation.  I'm still messing with the appearance of the blog, but I think it should be pretty cool.

In my Intro to Digital Humanities course, we have been split up into "tribes" of four people each and tasked with making a group blog.  I made Just Us Hugh Manatees for us to use.  The name was decided upon collaboratively.  This blog will be used for more textual blog posts, though there will be multimedia elements to some of them.

Hopefully I'll come up with some ideas and/or give up some stories to this blog to keep it moving along.  I'd like to try to post more often than every two and a half weeks or so, as I've been doing lately.  It is college.  Only time will tell how much time I have to tell all of you what I have to say.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Best in Town

(Note: This story was my entry in the 31st round of the Microcosms contest.  My prompts were: Ice Cream Vendor [character], Thunderstorm [setting], and Mystery [genre].)


            The sky octopi were doing their dirty work as the line began to form.  A few raindrops fell to the sidewalk beside my cart.
            I counted each of the women as they approached.  Ten.  Twenty.  Thirty.  They were all gorgeous, and almost all of them ordered vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone.
            Lightning split the skyline, but none of the customers bothered to look.  They kept their eyes locked on my face.  I shivered.  Crowds attract crowds, right? I thought.
When the storm opened up, I expected my line to rush away in a frenzy; instead, the women all pulled umbrellas from behind their backs, opened them, and resumed their staring.  I adjusted my waxed mustache.
            A few of the women ordered novelty items or chocolate cones, just frequently enough to keep me in stock of vanilla while my wife brought over two more tubs from our apartment down the block.
            “What is going on?” my wife whispered to me, leaning in close.  She smiled at the growing tendril of patrons.
            “I really wish that I knew.”  I turned to my next customer.  “And what can I get for you today, ma’am?”
            The woman took a small brass statue out of her jacket and set it on my cart.  It was shaped like an ice cream cone.  “I would like to congratulate you.”
            Some of the tension left my shoulders.  “What is this?” I asked.
            “It’s an award,” said the woman.  “Your homemade vanilla ice cream has been voted the Best Ice Cream in Portland by the Portland Coven.”
            “By the Cov—”  I coughed.  Witches.  Huh.  “Thank you very much.”
            The witch set a second, smaller statue in front of me.  “And this one is for Best-Looking Cart Vendor.”  Fifty witches winked at me in unison.  I blushed.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Style (Poetry Edition)

Alright, so I haven't written much on the subject of poetry on this blog.  There are two poems available for reading on here that are marked with the "Poetry" tag.  They aren't my best.  I can't say that they are my worst either, unfortunately.

I wrote several poem drafts for my Intro to Creative Writing class last Fall.  Two of those became polished poems for my portfolio.  I revised a poem that I had written on a whim toward the middle of the semester to take the third and final slot in the portfolio.  The three poems earned me a 98%.  All three were later accepted by my school's literary magazine and published in print.  While the three poems cover widely different subjects, I have noticed some similarities that seem to be becoming aspects of my own personal style as a poet.

I've written two poem drafts in the last week, and I dug up a short poem that I wrote within the last few months that I think shows some promise.  Those three poems also share some similarities with the three from my portfolio.

The first aspect of my poetic writing style seems to be: short lines.  Many of my lines in these six poems have contained three or four lines, some with one or two words.  Only a handful have five.  I believe there was only about one six-word line and one seven-word line.  Looking at other poems in this year's edition of Backroads (my school's lit mag), my lines are characteristically short and fast.  One poem from the 2016 edition had similar line lengths, and about two from the 2015 edition followed suit.  I don't mean to make any comment on line length from this.  Different line lengths work not only for different poets, but also for different poems.  I find it interesting though that the style that I've been developing is somewhat peculiar.

The second aspect of my style that I've noticed is: stark images.  Some of my thought process on this subject may be bias.  I can obviously see the images well because I wrote the poems and carried the images in my head.  But I do think that there is some truth to my analysis.  I like to use words that either illicit physical impressions or visual photographs.  My images are not always concrete (as in rendering in the same way to everyone), but they are images that can be felt or seen without much straining.  I use metaphors as much as the next guy/girl, yet I try to make my metaphors as "seeable" and "feelable" as possible.

The last aspect of my style does not appear in all of my poems, but does seem to be developing.  It is a tendency to stretch out the last part of my poems.  I like to close with a long comment on the subject that the poem has been dealing with.  These comments are not precisely my own.  They are born out of the poem in question.  One of my poems in particular expresses an idea that I do not believe in, but that I thought could be used in a good poem.  I'm not sure that I like the "dishonesty" of it.  I must admit though that I did find it very interesting, and the full poem could be interpreted as satire if stretched enough.

These aspects to my style may very well change in coming months and years.  I haven't developed very far as a poet quite yet.  But I think, for now, that I enjoy this writing style and will continue using it when appropriate.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Rejuvenation Potion of Antioch

        The viscous green fluid in Cassandra’s cauldron flashed white as she dropped a pig’s ear into her brew.  Her hands trembled.  She groped the table behind her for a handful of newt eyes.  She didn’t turn.  There wasn’t time.
        Rat tail.  Molasses.  Three extra-large pepperoni pizzas—though anchovy would have been better.
        Cassandra wafted her potion, eyes watering.  Not right.  What was she missing?  She yanked the phone from her pocket.
        “Joey.  Urgent.  Last ingredient in the rejuvenation potion of Antioch?”
        “Of Antioch?  Well—”
        “Please, Joey.  My dog is about to keel over.”
        “The feather of a hawk.  It must be from the—”
        Cassandra knocked her supply table nearly clean.  Her right hand brushed a tiny stack of feathers.  She plucked a brown one up, tossed it in the pot, stirred her mixture, and dipped an ancient bucket down into it.  She plopped it down before her shepherd, then hoisted her head into the potion.
        Gulp.  Gulp.  Thud.
        Cassandra’s phone rang.  She let it ring.  “From the tail,” he was about to say.  A feather from anywhere else will make a poison.
        Her dog.  Poisoned.  Twice.  By her.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Long Throw That Made It

(Note: A prior version of this post stated that many of the best male players play in the Premier League.  I completely mixed that up with the players of Wales.  I've corrected my mistake.)

There is an island at the north-west corner of Europe measuring 40,000 square miles.  Its size is not diminutive--not for European standards--but its cold volcanic landscape can be hard and rugged, lending itself to only a third of a million people.

The people of Iceland have long been acquainted with the soccer played in the neighboring United Kingdom, having watched British soccer in their youth.  Most of the players play for Scandinavian clubs, however.  Iceland's highest soccer league, Úrvalsdeild, is ranked 36th among all European leagues for men's soccer.  Yet Iceland's men's team not only qualified for the UEFA Champion's League tournament this year, they made it to the Quarterfinals, the final eight teams.

Iceland is not known for the strength of its individual players.  There are very few famous names from the history of Icelandic soccer.  This year, and in the qualifying campaign before the tournament proper opened, it was the heart of the Icelandic team that became famous.

In many years to come, soccer fans will exchange comments regarding Iceland's run in the 2016 European Championships.  They will speak of the cannon-fired throw-ins, the sturdy challenges, and the relentless, organized defense.  It will be the collective pride and passion, I believe, that will be noted above all else.  The Year of our Lord 2016 was the year Iceland decided that they would play their game and they would triumph until the giants at last broke them down.

Eight percent of the population of Iceland traveled to France to cheer on their beloved team.  Weeks later, at the Quarterfinal match against France on July 3rd, eight thousand remained, about a third of the prior total.  They made a mighty sound from the stands, supporting their team even after going down 4-0 to France after the first half of play.  Iceland battled back through great fatigue to end the match at 5-2.  Both of Iceland's goals were scored in open play.  France had conceded only two goals in their four preceding games, and both of them were scored on penalty kicks.

In the Group Stage, Iceland drew Portugal--winner of the first Quarterfinal match of the tournament-- and Hungary and defeated Austria to take second-place in their group.  From there they faced off against England, makers of the Laws of the Game.  They beat them by a score of 2-1 even after conceding a penalty kick goal in the fourth minute of the game.  It may have been a poor performance by the English team, but by all accounts, it was a masterful match for Iceland.

This Icelandic team is a testament to what dedication, teamwork, and organization can grant.  The people of Iceland can stand in unified pride, celebrating today, and longing even more for future success.  All those involved in this historic feat have done a service to their nation and to all the nations of the world of meager population and influence.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sports Posts to Come

I've been intending to post something to this blog for a while now, but I just haven't gotten the motivation to go ahead with any particular topic.  A lot of my time the last few weeks has been spent on sports (watching and reading about), so I've decided to write a few posts on sports topics.

The Copa America Centenario tournament just ended a few days ago.  The European Championships are still raging.  (Those are soccer tournaments, by the way.)  I have watched many, many matches from these tournaments.  There are several things I would like to say about what I've been seeing.  I'm not sure how many posts I'll be writing, but I imagine there will be at least two, possibly a bunch.

I listened to the audiobook for Kevin Hearne's Hounded and really liked it, so I might post a literary criticism in the next few days as well.  Hopefully, through some sort of posts, I will get some lifeblood back into this blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Out of the Metal Cage

       She got out of the car.  She really did it.  Left him.  It’s over, she thought.  It’s really over.
       At first she ran, down Eisenhower Street toward Market Avenue with her purse flowing out beside her clamped with one hand to her shoulder.  She looked to the road.  He wasn’t following her.  She decided to walk.
       It’s for the best.  From her wallet she pulled two 20’s and a 5, with her gift card for Chili’s.  Phone.
       Thank the Lord, still 20% battery.  “Uncle Jim,” she said.  “I’m in Carlsville, at the intersection of Eisenhower and Market.  Could you come pick me up?”
       “Well sure,” he replied in his soft-but-gritty vocal fry.  She hung up.
       The headline on the Carlsville Monitor declared “The War On Mars Is Over!”  She crinkled her bow, looking at it through the glass.  After a few lines, it was clear that the headline was just the usual media bait.  The war between the U.S.A. and China was still very much blazing on the Red Planet.
       What an age it is, she thought.  The wars on Earth had virtually ceased after the obliteration of the American East Coast and various parts of the other world superpowers.  Yet despite the peace on our home soil, humanity decided it could not survive without the taste of blood in its mouth.
       Isn’t that what I’ve been doing all along?  Giving up on Stephen just to go and date a bunch of low-lifes?  But I never needed any of them, did I?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Four Years Two Days Ago

Into the Ravenous Maw had its fourth blogiversary on the 15th.  I was still a freshman in high school when I started this blog.  My writing skills have improved greatly over the last few years.  Though I won't denounce my early posts, I definitely feel that my more recent posts have been some of my best.

I'm still not back into any sort of regular pattern of blogging.  I'd like to post more often than I had been before April, and I have to time to do it until college starts back up at the end of August.  One post a week would suffice, I think.  I would like to focus on quality of posts over quantity, of course, but quantities hovering around zero have their weaknesses regardless of quality.  There may be some TV show reviews or analyses coming in the near future.  I've been spending a good bit of time watching shows on Netflix, time that I hope will both aid me as a writer and give me some blogging ideas.

My rate of writing is low as always.  I need to work on that.  I've been absorbing a good bit of writing lately though, which is great.  There's also some editing to do and stories that need to be sent out yet again.  I've had no luck in recent months besides the poems published in my college's literary magazine (and a win in the--sadly--final round--at least for the time being--of the Finish That Thought contest back in mid-January; you can read that story here).

All things considered, it's been a pretty good year.  I graduated from high school and slogged through two semesters of college (all with 4.0 GPAs) in the last blogging year.  I turned eighteen.  I wrote some good flash fiction and managed to pull off a few good poems.  I filled the pulpit at my church for three regular services and one contemporary service.  And so on.  The next year will prove even better, I pray.  I hope it goes well for all of you too.

Monday, May 2, 2016

What SFF Can Do With Theme

Science fiction and fantasy can do things that other genres cannot.  I've talked about it before in posts such as this one.  Today I'd like to talk about what SFF can do with theme.

I've always been skeptical of theme.  I think "message fiction" is very hard to do well, especially in the written word.  Television shows like Boy Meets World do it justice, I think, but few stories have been able to work such subtleties into an engaging narrative, Aesop's fables and parables aside.  I like general themes that don't wish to answer a question.  Think "Good vs. Evil" and "Identity."  These sorts of themes have little to no "call to action."  They only wish to broaden your perception of something, to make your question your thinking.

In his novella The Emperor's Soul, Brandon Sanderson deals with the concept of race; however, rather than dealing with the issue in real-life terms, he evaluates the theme from an exterior position.  There is no direct parallel between the racism faced by the protagonist Shai and racism in the real world.  Sure, it is similar in places, but there is a blend of multiple issues regarding race relations that could not be addressed in a story not set in a world removed from our own.

Is it wrong to exterminate an entire sentient species just because that species is trying to kill your own?  This is the philosophical question asked by Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and its sequels, especially Speaker for the Dead.  Only SFF stories can delve into this sort of question.  As far as we know, there aren't any of sentient species in existence, so any story possessing such creatures would automatically be fantasy or science fiction (or horror, I suppose, though it would be a blend with SFF).

Susan Palwick's novelette "Hhasalin" from the September/October 2013 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction combines these two themes in an interesting way.  (I'm going to spoil the story for you, so if you'd like to read it first, I would recommend going no further.  It's an excellent tale.)  Unlike Ender's Game, this story is written from the POV of a member of the sentient species that was wiped out (though not completely, same as [spoiler alert] in Ender's Game).  Lhosi is a shaper.  Her race's planet has been invaded by humans.  The shapers fought back valiantly, but the clever humans developed a virus to eliminate their ability to shape (that is, fashion objects out of shapestone using a magical technique).  With their magic lost, the shapers were defeated.  The humans had only meant to cripple the shapers, yet in the process they inadvertently caused great illness to the native race.  Some of the shapers are immune.  Most have died out.  Their only consolations are that the virus left the shapers with an inkling of their abilities still intact and that some human families have been compassionate enough to take in orphaned shapers like Lhosi.  Lhosi herself is not subjected to a vast amount of racism, but the racism that she does face—and the greater racism faced by her race as a whole—is distinct from racism experienced in our world.  Even so, this racism is applicable to the theme of racism as it applies to our everyday lives.  The destruction of the shaper race was not intended by the humans, at least not on paper.  Some of the characters, especially the doctor character who pops in from time to time, are very sympathetic.  This is a different take on the question asked by Ender's Game and an interesting one.

Many of these sorts of themes can be explored by science fiction and fantasy.  There is no direct application for these themes in our lives; I don't think there needs to be.  The beauty of these themes, for me, is that they simply allow us to think from a genuine, neutral perspective about important issues.  Politics can be stripped in large part from these themes, making them more easily digested by people of all walks of life.  Other genres have a much harder time generating these perspectives.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zealots

Every world needs a few crazies.  You can call them whatever you want.  I'm calling them zealots because it's Z day.  Zealots are people who are incredibly invested and enthusiastic about something (or who belong to a certain sect of Judaism like Judas Iscariot).

What are your zealots zealous about?  How does that help to define your world?  I think you can say a lot about a world just by depicting a people who are zealous about something in that world.

Y is for Ymir Caroc

(Note: I'm several minutes late.  I know.  The funny thing is, I'm done with college for the semester now, so I really haven't got an excuse.)

Ymir Caroc is a father of four young children, all girls.  Their ages are fifteen, twelve, six, and one.  Ymir works fifty-five hour weeks to support his family, but he spends all of his remaining time with them.

Liana is the oldest.  She does ballet and recently picked up the violin.  Ymir thinks she is the most talented dancer in the world, even if she does stumble from time to time.

Nina is next.  Her talents haven't fully blossomed yet, but she really enjoys reading.  Ymir used to read to her every night.  Now, Nina reads to him.

Beatrice is in Kindergarten.  She likes to paint, though her arms aren't quite steady yet.  Ymir often draws animals for her to color in.

Debra is still just a toddler.  She was born ten weeks early, and she has stayed fairly small.  Ymir sits with her in his rocking chair for at least a half hour every day and reads her passages from the Bible, even though she can't understand them just yet.

Ymir is in love with life, his wife, and his kids.  He regrets very little.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xabi

Little is known of Xabi.  So little in fact that his surname has only been hinted at in whispers.  Over one hundred hits have been attributed to the silent assassin.

All of Xabi's targets have been shot through the heart with the round of a different gun.  Each hole is in the same spot.  Dead center.

There have been rumors that Xabi will not stop until he has killed with every gun of the modern age.  It may be true.  A checklist was recovered from the scene of a double murder three months ago.  Two of the check marks were fresh.  They were drawn in the targets' blood.  Some eyewitness accounts claim that the list was a plant, but that testimony has been put into question.

Xabi's career has stretched eleven years as of last Wednesday.  We are sure that we shall catch him before he strikes again.  Do not worry.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Wesley Duncan

Wesley Duncan is a senior at King High School in Atlanta, Georgia.  He enjoys playing soccer and pretending to play the guitar.  His best friends are Tommy and Frieda.  They want to start a motorcycle gang once they all get their licenses.

Wesley is a very average student.  He is good at history, but most of his other grades are C's.  It doesn't matter much to him.  He wants to work in his family's bar for a while, then possibly open his own.

As graduation approaches, Wesley is getting restless.  He knows that he won't see most of his classmates very often after they get their diplomas.  He wonders what they think of him, if he has made a lasting impression on them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Viral

You can define a world pretty well but what news hits the masses.  What goes viral in your world?

There are many ways you can go about planting a viral seed to world-build.  You could start a story off with a character learning the viral topic.  Perhaps he or she is the first.  Perhaps the last.  Perhaps he or she is just very heavily impacted by the news.  Maybe the viral seed is spoken in whispers throughout the kingdom.  Your protagonist could be a gossiping merchant spreading the news around.

For more modern settings, what goes viral may have little bearing on the world.  In older settings, I think that the world-building can be great.  Are the kings affairs common knowledge?  Has a bard from the east become so renowned that he is cherished in a neighboring state?  There are many possibilities.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Uplift

To make a future world more interesting, consider uplifting some animals.  Uplifting tends to move a story away from hard SF, though it would be interesting to see a story attempting to dive into the science of uplifting (the theoretical science).

One of the more visible examples of uplifted animals in SF comes from The Planet of the Apes and its franchise.  In this case, uplifted apes are used to generate horror and to examine humanity from a distance.  Uplifted animals can be included in stories for a variety of reasons.

Coolness is also an important factor to uplifting.  Sentient elephants?  Cool!  The many effects of uplifting might be difficult to keep track of, but that just allows for a more flavorful world.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Tiny Things

Don't forget about the tiny things that fill out your world.  I don't just mean the ants and the lice; the "tiny things" are all those little pieces of description that make your world come to life.

Sometimes describing just one specific thing can create new details.  Give one sword a unique history and readers will assume, if there isn't a reason for them not to, that many of the other weapons featured have unique histories too.  This builds up your world without having to waste a ton of description.

While the big over-arching elements of a story are very important, don't forget about the tiny things.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Silence

The title of this post is a little misleading.  I don't mean to talk about silence.  I want to talk about what you hear when you are silent.

A lot can go on in a story.  The action and dialogue often motor on at at least a decent clip.  But paired with scenes are sequels, and paired with sound should be (from time to time) silence.

You can learn a lot from what you hear when you are silent.  The wind.  Running water.  The buzzing in your ears.  Every setting will have different sounds.  Why not build your world by listening through the silence to what calls out?

I love the sound in stories, but I can appreciate silence too.  Maybe there should be just a little more of it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Reptiles

I'm really stretching for these post topics.  This semester of college is just about over.  I'm a little tired.  Anyway, reptiles.  You don't see a whole lot of them in SF/F/H stories.  Why?

Europe is the default template for most fantasy stories written currently, at least in the U.S.  In sci-fi it can be a little more spread out.  I don't read much horror.  Other than dragons, there aren't many reptiles out and about it common settings.  I think adding some in could allow for some cool world-building.

One of the biggest things I've noticed during my fifteen trips to Walt Disney World has been the tiny lizards.  They are everywhere.  They're a little creepy, but kinda cool.  I guess Florida's climate is warmer than those found in most spec fic stories.  If a small lizard were described in a story, I would probably think immediately of Floridian weather if other conditions were not specified.  That could allow for very fast world-building.

There are so many little things you can do to avoid info-dumps and add flavor to your story.  Adding some reptiles might be one of them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quarters

Coins exist in just about any economy.  Some sci-fi settings might be too advanced for coins, at least in some areas, but most fantasy settings would do well to include coins.  If there aren't coins, there should be a really awesome substitute.

The images on coins can be great for world-building.  Is there a ruler depicted?  Does the coin harken back to an earlier time, like Charlemagne's coins?  Is there a symbol rather than a face like during the reign of Louis IX of France?  You can make a major comment about your world with just a one-sentence descripton of a coin's surface.

The materials and types of coins are also important.  Are there quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies, half-dollars, and dollar pieces?  Are there pieces of eight?  Platinums, golds, silvers, and coppers?  What does the material and type of the coinage say about the area in which it was minted?  Maybe an area has a lot of gold but very little silver so that silver coins are worth more than gold coins.  Then that silver pitcher in the King's palace seems a lot more important.

For a quick and easy world-building tool that can jingle in your pockets, look no further than coinage.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Pucks

When was the last time you saw a story that featured an ice rink sport, such as hockey?  I don't know that I've ever read such a tale.  I think it could be very interesting to create an ice-based sport for a secondary-world.

It seems natural that ice sports would develop in any world eventually.  I suppose extinction could come first, but the possibility would be there on just about any planet supporting humanoids.  They wouldn't necessarily use pucks; they could.

Plenty of secondary-world settings have Earth foliage, so why not just have hockey exist in a secondary-world?  I can see how it would be a little jarring, but I don't know that it would break a story.  It's an idea at least.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Orchards

There's something mystical and serene about orchards.  They provide an immediate emotional resonance.  When an orchard is well-tended, the sun passes through the trees in beams and keeps the whole area lit beneath the swaying emerald leaves.  When left to rot, the sun evades the decay, and crushed fruit and compost litters the orchard floor.

Orchards are underutilized in storytelling.  If you want to evoke a feeling of wonder or a feeling of despair, set a scene in an orchard.  There are plenty of wondrous settings, and swamps or mires are often used for despair, but the orchard can be used with a sense of originality.

I believe a scene in The Sum of All Men took place in an orchard.  That's about the only scene I can think of set in an orchard.  I'm not really sure why.  Orchards are cool.  Then again, the only orchard I ever remember writing about was for a little writing exercise in 8th grade.  It's definitely on my list though, after deciding to write this.  Maybe I'll use it in my Playwriting class next semester.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Game Plan

I'm going to write my final blog post for Intro to Professional Writing now so that I won't have to double up during the week with an A-to-Z Challenge post.  I'd just like to give an overview of what I've decided to work on for my digital portfolio (for the time being).

Rather than trying to tackle ten pieces, I've decided to go down to six.  If an employer really wants to know a lot about me, he or she can read through my hundreds of blog posts.  Three nonfiction pieces and three fiction pieces should be enough for the portfolio.

Because I like novellas, novellas are in between short stories and novels for length, and the story I choose to review should probably be read again before I rewrite the review for it, I have decided to use my review of The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson in my portfolio.  I will consider my original review but rewrite the review based upon a second reading of the award-winning novella.

For my "On Writing" post I have decided on the second post of my "Quotes" posts.  Unlike some of my other Writing posts, it doesn't go into a writing concept, but I think the post clearly demonstrates my ability to analyze stories and recognize literary magic.

I will indeed include one fantasy story, one sci-fi story, and one horror story in my portfolio.  For fantasy, I'll be using "Lost Love and Nightprowlers."  It will need some large revisions, but it is a story that I have worked on for three years now and, despite posting it to my blog some time back, I think it can be made into a great story.  There are some romance elements in this story that should hint at my abilities in that genre as well.  In sci-fi, I have selected my Flash Frenzy submission "The Last Photo of Humanity."  The psychological element is great, I think, and there is a clear blend of sci-fi and horror.  For horror, I have just now decided upon my Flash Friday submission "Two For Hell."  I really like the style that I used, and I believe this story to be my most terrifying.

To exhibit my ability to work in a group, I have decided to include my proposal as my final portfolio piece (though the actual order I will present the pieces in may be different).  I can't guarantee everything in the proposal is 100% realistic, but I do think that the proposal demonstrates my current knowledge of the publishing industry and my ability to come up with an idea for a novel.

The first three of these pieces will take substantial work.  My latter two fiction pieces will likely stay fairly similar to their original forms, but will definitely get some clean-up.  I would like to preserve the group dynamic of my proposal by keeping the parts my partner wrote fairly close to their "handed-in" form.  The proposal will still need some revisions, I'm sure.  With these six pieces in polished form, I feel confident that my portfolio will be striking.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Night Darts

Night darts are small, black birds that come out at night and divebomb sleeping animals.  They travel at speeds up to twenty miles per hour.  The average length of the male is three to four inches.  Females are four to five inches long.  Both genders weigh several ounces.

Humans are often afraid of night darts, though very few attacks have been reported.  Legend has it that an ancient King was killed when one gouged out his eye, but few believe the tale.

Night darts live almost exclusively in forests.  One variety will occasionally occupy swamps, but only during certain parts of the year.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Mara Vitalli

Mara Vitalli chose to not go to university.  When she was younger, she had wanted to be a marine biologist, or perhaps a doctor, but throughout high school she decided that biology wasn't for her.  Her teacher was great, and she got good grades, but the material just didn't interest her at the earlier levels.  She decided that she liked people more than animals and shifted toward publicity because of an internship she snagged her senior year.  When she was offered a job straight out of high school as a full-time publicity assistant, she stole the opportunity.

Mara has worked for her publicity organization for eight years.  During that time, she has worked for dozens of minor celebrities and a few political figures.  She does not regret skipping over college life for the opportunity.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Two More Weeks of Labor

(Note: This is not an A-to-Z Challenge post.  I posted for today a short while ago.)

My last assignment for this semester is the digital portfolio due on the 28th.  Prior to that, I have a list of exams and other assignments to handle.  The very first thing on my list of things to do is to decide what piece I want to bring in tomorrow to be work-shopped.  I need to get on that.

I have decided (for now) to have four categories of pieces in my portfolio (subject to change): Reviews, On Writing (I'm totally stealing Stephen King's book title), Fiction, and In-House Professional Writing.  I will have three reviews (a short story review, a novella review, and a novel review), two short essays on writing, three stories (one horror, one fantasy, and one sci-fi), and my proposal and press release from the class.  Ten pieces might be too much for the portfolio though.  I will have to figure out if that is permissible or not.  I could always cut it down to four and just use a novella review, one essay on writing, a short story, and either the proposal or the press release.  Or I could go with a number in between four and ten.

The largest piece of work I have before me in the next two weeks (other than the portfolio) is a 6-8 page research paper for my Intro to Medieval Art course that is due in class by next Thursday.  I have my introductory paragraph done and a good bit of research conducted.  I still need to research more and actually write the paper though.  That'll probably take at least six hours of work.  Hopefully I'll get a lot of work done this weekend so that I can send the draft to my professor for feedback (as she offered to everyone in the class).  I think the paper will turn out well, and my grade in that class is quite good, so I'm not drastically worried about it, though I will be if I don't have it finished by the end of Sunday.

L is for Lyrics

Lyrics can be a great way of world-building your novel.  Think "Over the Misty Mountains Cold."  You can use lyrics to both develop your world and the characters who write the lyrics.

Lyrics can stand alone or they can be accompanied by music.  When writing secondary-world stories, choosing a music system can be tricky.  Do you want to use real-world instruments or invent your own?  If you use real-world instruments, you have to make sure it would make sense for each instrument to exist within the rough time period and technological age of the story.  If you invent your own, you still need to fit the instruments to other technologies and have to consider why the invented instruments were invented, what kinds of music they are used for, etc.

I personally enjoy a good lyric in a story.  Whether it be a performed lyric or a more poetic lyric, lyrics are able to develop worlds like few other devices.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kings

Everyone likes kings except for the subjects of the kings (usually).  Monarchies are just plain interesting.  The dynamic between king and kingdom, king and subject, king and rival kingdom is sophisticated and drawing.

Typically kings only appear in fantasy, and perhaps alternate history, out of the speculative genres.  I think that it would be interesting to see more kings (and queens) in other genres.  Kings (and queens) in space?  Sounds awesome.

When using a monarchy, pay close attention to the impact of such a government on a country.  The social system in the country does not have to be feudal, though it often is.  Taking a king and planting him at the top of a Congress could make for a very interesting system (like England had historically, sort of).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Jamming

Jamming is a magical technique used to prevent another mage from using magic.  It is a feature in many magic systems.  The concept aids any magic system by creating a limitation for it, as discussed in Sanderson's Second Law.  When jamming is added to a system, very powerful magics can be present without as much worry of them becoming too strong for the setting to conceivably handle.

Sometimes certain mages are only able to jam.  Other times all mages can both jam and perform typical spells (or whatever).  Both are valid approaches.

If you would like to make a magic system more interesting and balanced, try adding jamming.  It has been used by such authors as Brian McClellan to great effect.

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for Iris Domingo

Iris Domingo is a Broadway performer.  She loves the lights.  She adores the glamor.  The work isn't always steady, but when she isn't performing she has some time to discover new things about herself.

In her spare time, Iris enjoys assembling model planes.  She and her brother used to put their allowance money together every few months to buy a model that they would build together.  He died in a collapsed building at 20.  He had been a firefighter.  Iris has been haunted by fire ever since.

When Iris' brother's widow and niece were left homeless after a tornado ravaged their town, Iris took them in.  She sees her little brother in her niece's pale hazel eyes.  Tomorrow she has decided to ask her if she wants to build a plane with her. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for Half-Mage

Half-mages are either the strongest or the weakest people of a civilization.  To be a half-mage is to have either all of the strengths of a normal mage or all of the weaknesses.

One does not typically know that he or she is a half-mage until puberty.  At that point, either powers emerge or weaknesses become apparent.

It has been common throughout the centuries to send weakness half-mages on dangerous missions or have them fight each other to the death.  Power half-mages have typically been used as long-range soldiers, or in some cases front-line commanders with a considerable bodyguard.

Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for Georg Honsen

Georg Honsen was born in the Great River Ülm.  From the cold waters he emerged, crying as a lion.  Or so he always told his friends.  The strength did not last long, as Georg developed into a sickly young boy.  He was unable to attend school with the other children of the town.  His uncle tutored him in letters, numbers, and his fields of astronomy and biology, as well as the history and literature he was familiar with.

Adolescence brought some reprieve for Georg, allowing him to venture out for frequent nights sleeping under the stars.  He conducted experiments on dead animals he found and began diagramming their structures.  At the age of 23, Georg wrote a book titled Maps of the Dead and of the Stars.  In it, he claimed a correlation between the stars and those animals living on the Earth.

Georg received some acclaim for his later works in biology and astronomy, but never achieved what he felt was a definitive explanation for why he felt the two fields were so very connected.  He died at the age of 53 on a voyage to the southern glaciers.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for Fight Night

Boxing is king in the Eastern Reaches.  Boxers wrap their fists with strips of cloth with the ends dipped in ether.  Strikes must be made below the collarbone and above the waist.  Most towns in the Eastern Reaches have at least one league.

Matches between boxers of neighboring towns are fought frequently, often on open ground between the settlements.  The greatest boxers from each town may travel for fights attended by such important people as the Empress herself and her sons.  These matches usually take place in palace courtyards.

"Fight Night" in the Eastern Reaches is the fourth night of each week.  These fights are separate from the league bouts and formal matches.  They are fights of honor, duels fought to submission.  Among men, it is encouraged for disagreements to be settled with a Fight Night fight.  Duels of any other form are punishable by fierce lashings.  Among women, Fight Night fights may be approved by local leaders, but in these fights strikes must be made below the ribs and above the hips.  These fights are rarely allowed for those of child-bearing age who are married.  Fights between men and women are virtually unheard of.

Hey, Look, I'm Actually Being a Good Little Blogger

(Note: This is not an A-to-Z Challenge post.  My post for today will likely go up shortly after this one.)

As I mentioned in my last Professional Writing blog post, I'm participating in the A-to-Z Challenge this month.  So far I have posted five times and received eleven comments.  Most of the comments have been the result of my usual blogging strategy, which is to comment on other blogs.  I've been pretty good, commenting on a few blog posts each day (except maybe one day).  The time of day that I've posted at has slipped, but hasn't fallen to the last hour of the day at all.

I've liked my posts so far.  My theme for the Challenge, as I've mentioned before, is world-building elements and character bios.  Two of my posts have been bios.  My first post was about a magic system and my "C" and "D" posts were focused on bizarre world-building elements of a setting I haven't actually written anything in.

In other news, my partner and I have completed our proposal for class.  I think it turned out really well.  I can't guarantee a press would actually use our plan exactly, but I do think it's plausible.  It was fun making the details up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E is for Eleanor Barca

Eleanor Barca does not consider herself strong-willed.  She is simply rational.  She has turned down seven suitors in her twenty years of life, most of them in the last three years (one of them when she was eight).  None of these men had ever asked her about the scar on her face running just below her left eye.  They were charming and they knew their classical literature, but none of them cared about what matters to her most.

Every morning before she wakes up from her slumber, Eleanor saves her mother again.  They are dreams, but they feel so real that her scar burns anew each time.  Her mother wakes her up with a damp cloth and a kiss on the cheek.

Eleanor has decided that until she finds a man who asks her about her scar, she will never consider marriage.  She has time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Ducks Galore

Teeutterland is not free of problems itself.  About ten years ago, some illegal immigrants brought in invasive ducks.  The ducks multiplied quickly.  Within six years nearly every body of fresh water in Teeutterland was infested with the invasive birds.

In order to curb the duck population, the President of Teeutterland imported foxes from Seltzershire.  Unfortunately, the foxes preferred every aquatic creature in Teeutterland over the ducks.  The duck population has been declining, but the invasive fox population has exploded.

Lowered fish populations have resulted in many of the fishermen of Teeutterland converting their skills to fox trapping.  Teeutterland has benefitted from increased fur exports, but current fashions to the south have shifted away from furs in recent months.

Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for Coconut Catastrophe

In the kingdom of Seltzershire, there is a coconut catastrophe.  Every few months or so one of the barons is assassinated, and the method of assassination is always the same.  The assassin puts chemical lime in a coconut and the baron drinks it all up, resulting in death.

Coconuts are one of the most prominent wares in the black market of Seltzershire.  Not native to the kingdom but prominent in the nations to the south, eating coconuts has become a huge fad among the nobility of Seltzershire in recent years.  The coconut trade is not strictly prohibited, but a trade contract between Seltzershire and the republic of Teeutterland requires all legal coconut imports to come from Teeutterland.  Unfortunately, the quality of Teeutterland's coconuts is alarmingly low.  Merchants consume a large quantity of Teeutterland coconuts, but the nobility purchase all of their coconuts on the black market.

This catastrophe has enflamed to such a degree that many members of the nobility have been forced to allow their food-and-beverage-tasters to drink the milk of their coconuts.  A new religion has sprung up within the community of these tasters dedicated to coconut milk.  Some barons consume the flesh of multiple coconuts per day, and so several in the taster community have been elevated to the status of demi-god within their religion.  Proponents believe that it is only through the drinking of coconut milk that one may earn salvation and that the great coconut god has compelled these assassins to kill with lime in coconuts because they do not deserve salvation.

Teeutterland has heard reports of this mysterious new religion.  Resulting investigations have broken open the black market of coconuts in Seltzershire.  Teeutterland has threatened war if these illicit coconuts do not cease flowing into the kingdom.  Fearing the end of their supply of "pure" coconut milk (as Teeutterland's coconuts are a disgrace to the coconut god), proponents of the coconut religion have formed into a small army of ferocious fighters, hidden in their masters' fortresses, awaiting the day Teeutterland invades so that they may spill blood in the name of their god.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Bernard Cousteau

Bernard Cousteau is a plain man on the surface.  When he isn't wearing his royal blue military uniform he is wearing royal blue civilian clothing.  He loves his country and has pride in his military service.  He is a member of the Queen's Own Rifles.  His natural ability in metal magic is limited, but he is able to sharpen his aim after consuming the right powders.  Bernard has a tendency to keep his body so rigid that it almost appears that he is floating along during a march.  This has earned him the nickname "Wisp" from the ancillaries of l'Akos in his unit.  Bernard was born in a small village in south-eastern Glas, the son of two prominent merchants.  His military service began at age fifteen after an apprenticeship with a gunsmith whom Bernard quotes constantly.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A is for Aroma Magic

About a year or so ago I tried to write a flash fic using an aroma-based magic system.  I called it "Aromagic."  The story kind of flopped after 163 words, so I put the fragment in a folder I called "Seeds" and let it sit there.  I don't intend to use this story as it is, so I'll post the first paragraph here so that you can get a glimpse of how the magic is supposed to work.

Magenta edged along the cavern wall, crouching as far as she could without crawling. At the next branching of the tunnel, she pulled a small stone from the pouch at her hip. The reaction lasted only a few seconds. It changed the stone from gray to pale blue, then broke it in half. The air held only mild aromagic here, yet a good sniff would have sent anyone without Magenta’s gift to the hospital.

The idea here essentially is that aromagic exists in certain places naturally.  This form of magic can kill those who aren't gifted with the ability to withstand it.  Special stones can be used to detect aromagic and to negate its powers.  The aromagic can be used for such actions as creating undead soldiers and encouraging plants to grow.

I could always use the concept of "aroma magic" in a different way than I have described here, but I think this tiny set of parameters that I have set should work well with the system.  Hopefully some day I will finish a story using aromagic.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Writing More

Alright, so I have a lot of writing to do.  I have a few paragraphs to write for my proposal, plus editing for that.  I have a research paper for my Intro to Medieval Art class that I'll need to do in the next three weeks.  There are a few more blog posts to be written for this class.  I have two short papers to write for my Acting I class.  Oh, and there's the whole A-to-Z Challenge.  I should probably describe that for those who only read my "Professional Writing" posts.

The A-to-Z Challenge is a sort of blog hop taking place each April.  Hundreds of bloggers participate.  This will be my fourth year partaking in the Challenge, but I dropped out after a few days last year.  Hopefully I'll make it the whole way through this time around.  Each day in April (not counting Sundays), each blogger posts.  The first post has something to do with the letter "A."  In the past my posts for the first of April have been named "A is for Arson," "A is for A. A. Milne," and "A is for Abednego."  My plan for the Challenge this year is to post a character bio or a description of some world-building element of a setting I make up (likely a distinct setting in most posts).

I'm going to be writing a lot more than I have been in the coming days.  The first step is to get my first Challenge post pre-written for tomorrow.  It's going to be a long month.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Pride She Carries

I've never finished a novel before, so I've never needed to write a query letter.  Despite this, I wrote a query letter a couple days ago.  This query is completely fake: written by a fake author to a fake editor about a fake book.  I really like the idea I came up with though.  I doubt that I'll ever actually write it (because I'm not sure that I'm the best person for the job), but it would be really fun to read.

The idea for The Pride She Carries came from female Kurdish resistance groups.  I had the idea in a different sort of setting for the same genre (far-future military SF) before deciding to use the idea for this fake book that my partner and I are using for our proposal for class.  I won't post the full pitch, but I'll try to boil it down below.

Chanua, a female war hero, battles a terrorist sect of radicals from an archaic native religion with a group of fellow female warriors.  Will the terrorists, who go by the name the Lions' Bane, succeed in taking all of Kenya by storm, or will Chanua and her Huntresses pick them clean to the bone?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Foreboding A-to-Z Challenge Theme Reveal

I see that I'm a day later than the greater part of the A-to-Z Challenge community in revealing my theme.  Not that I had intended to participate in the event, as it were.  But it is another sign of my lack of attention to my blog and the blogging community.  I'm only one day late, at least.

My original plan for my A-to-Z theme was to review a television show episode each day.  As the days of March faded away without much preparation, I decided to change the idea.  With school, I cannot trust myself to watch the requisite amount to declare that theme.  Instead I'll be giving myself a much smaller load.

This April, I shall be posting a short bio for a character (I'll probably never write) or a description of some world-building element of a random setting I make up, likely different each time (though perhaps some days will be from the same milieu).  These will likely be quite short.  I'm sure my imagination will take a firmer hold on occasion and lend itself to a longer post.

I hope to see any and all of you join me in the Challenge this year.  I didn't make it very far last year, but this will be my fourth year participating, and I really hope it won't be a second failure so soon.  I respond to virtually all comments on my posts and try to comment on the blogs of all of my visitors.  Happy A-to-Zing!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Momentum

Momentum is important for writers.  It is immensely easier to get your pen flowing when you've just recently pushed ink through the feed.  This concept applies to me in several ways (two of which I'll talk about here).

It has been two weeks since I last wrote a blog post.  I had intended to post twice a week throughout the semester, but this plan failed.  I'm scraping by with my requisite post per week.  Some of this is loss of energy.  Much of it is loss of momentum.  Back when I was writing three blog posts each week, my hands were always primed and ready for the next post because they were in a rhythm.  Now my rhythm is only one post per week, and that isn't complex enough a song to keep me writin' on.

While I definitely believe that writing blog posts is important for creative writers, writing creative works should be a top priority.  I have lost virtually all sense of momentum for my creative writing.  I started to build a little bit of momentum over Spring Break, writing two small flash fics, starting a third, and editing a fourth, but since then I haven't followed up on that wave.  I let myself settle in the trough.  Dommage.  One of these days I'll build up momentum.  I'll finish the novelette I've been working on sporadically since fall of 2014 and get more flash fics pumped out.  Maybe I'll actually cross some stories off of my list of projects-in-the-wings.

On the podcast Writing Excuses, author Mary Robinette Kowal said that when she's lost momentum she'll start off writing just a few sentences a day, building her way back up to thousands of words.  This is a plan I should attempt.  While I have found recently that I don't work well in flash fiction taking more than a sitting or two to complete a story, taking this idea to my novelette should get the blood pumping in both the story and my writing veins.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Targeting Multiple Audiences

In the press releases that we just wrote we were instructed to write with two audiences in mind.  The first audience was journalists and the second was the true target audience of the press release.  This approach does not only exist for press releases.  I use a similar approach when I write fiction.

For fiction to be traditionally published, it first needs to get through a "gatekeeper."  This "gatekeeper" can be one or more slush readers, assistant editors, an editor-in-chief, etc.  In rare cases, the "gatekeeper" can be the public (or virtual public), as is the case in a flash fiction contest for Escape Pod that I am participating in now.  When I write, I assume that the "gatekeeper" will be an editor, unless I'm writing specifically to target a market that I know uses slush readers first or whatever.

If I'm targeting a specific editor I will look at the attributes of the stories that editor publishes and try to keep my story compatible with those stories.  For example, if I know an editor prefers 3rd-narrative POV, I will write the story using that POV.  Usually I do not target specific editors.

Targeting editors in general is a small matter, but it does need to be considered.  Editors in general in the genres I write prefer 3rd-limited or 1st-person POV.  Consequently, most of the stories I write are in those POVs.  Editors in general like traditional plot structures.  I write mainly traditional plot structures for many reasons; this is one of them.  These are just two examples of ways in which I consider editors when I write.

Primarily, I write stories in ways that I believe readers will like.  In order to get to those readers through traditional channels, I must first get through "gatekeepers."  Just as one must target multiple audiences for a press release, one must do the same for stories seeking traditional publication.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Twitter: A Writer's Tool

Before I made a Twitter account I seriously doubted the usefulness of the resource.  Why would you want to be limited to 140 characters a pop?  What can Twitter do for me that Facebook can't?  While Facebook can be utilized in much the same ways as Twitter, Twitter does its job better for certain groups of people.

I have conversed with several prominent members of my field through Twitter.  For names most people recognize, this is difficult.  But for higher-ups in a specific area such as SFF writers, this is sometimes easy.  I have conversed with the likes of Brian McClellan, Caroline Yaochim, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells on Twitter.  I am followed by novelist David Farland (a pen name for Dave Wolverton) and short fiction writer Alex Shvartsman, among others.  Many of these sorts of folks will respond to direct questions and some comments, assuming you're being civil.

I've learned a lot from reading tweets and clicking on links to posts and Google Hangouts by writers of speculative fiction.  Some more specific information I've garnered from talking to lesser-name writers directly.  They really are quite nice, in general.

Twitter can be a great tool for writers.  It can be used for both networking and for gathering information.  I do not regret making an account whatsoever.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Inclusion


This quote from former President Bill Clinton, which I found on hillaryspeeches.com ("Bill Clinton Campaigns for Hillary in SC and GA"; photo also from that post), has multiple "meaningless words" and phrases.

"Change maker" is the first meaningless phrase.  Outside of politics, there might be some shred of meaning for the term, but within politics the phrase is hollow.  Some politicians make more changes than others, sure, but everyone makes changes.  Even the most classical conservatives make changes.  "Change maker" is a buzzphrase, stripped of its denotation until all that is left is a positive connotation for most.

There are three instances of "inclusion" in this quote, and zero of them have meaning.  When you see  the word "inclusive," you may get a warm feeling, but that's all there is to the word as it relates to the words "economics," "politics," and "society."  There are policies that could fall under the category of "inclusive," but as Mr. Clinton used the word, there is buzz without sting.

"Safe" falls toward being a meaningless word as well.  It can mean many things.  No policy can satisfy "safety" by all of its definitions.  In context one can assume that the word is used to describe a state in which terrorism is infrequent, so there is some meaning to be found here.

The final "meaningless word" Bill Clinton used in this quote is "Americans," specifically after the phrase "who we are as."  There isn't a unified idea of what it means to be an American.  Beyond that, Mr. Clinton never attempts to narrow what being an American means.  He simply says that his wife would "[keep] us safe without giving up who we are as Americans."

Virtually no part of this sentence has any meaning whatsoever.  It is political up to the lip of the jar.  If anything, Mr. Clinton is saying that his wife is a liberal.  Well, so is her opponent.  There isn't really a way to fix Mr. Clinton's statement.  Add meaning by actually saying something.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Editing Process

"Editing process" is a term I use loosely.  I don't really have a unified approach to editing my writing.  Part of this is because I write a wide variety of different genres.  Another part is that some of my manuscripts come out better in their first draft than others.  My path for editing fiction is often quite different than my path for editing nonfiction.

For fiction, a full cycle from first draft to final draft can take years.  There are several reasons for this.  One is that it often takes me months to complete the first draft of a story.  I have a few stories that have been in the works for over a year.  Length of story is a small component of this problem.  My problem here is that I have trouble sustaining effort on projects until they're done, either because of other work (and subsequent loss of momentum) or because I'm unhappy with the quality of the work-in-progress.  I really need to learn to just finish the stories, and I hope to finish my works-in-progress eventually.  The next reason my stories take a long time to develop is because I don't like making major changes right away.  My first few rounds of editing generally go after problems at the paragraph and sentence levels, avoiding larger problems that aren't glaring.  After months of a story lying around I tend to be more apt to making large-scale changes, such as completely rewriting a story from the beginning.  Closely related to that second reason, the uncertain endpoint for stories leads them to continue changing over time.  Until I've posted a story to my blog or had it accepted somewhere, my stories are stuck in limbo.  I make changes every once in a while to continuously improve them.

Most of the time I'll ask alpha and/or beta-readers to critique my stories before I start submitting (and sometimes later).  I then use that feedback to make changes.  Most of this feedback is small stuff, so I make sure the mistakes are indeed mistakes, then I fix them.  For larger pieces of feedback, such as comments about a weakness in a character, I will go through the manuscript and make changes throughout in order to improve my story.  I don't take all advice given to me.  If I feel that the changes recommended would harm my story either in style or vision, I will ignore them.

My own editing steps often start while I'm writing.  Sometimes I fix my stories up as I write them (a habit I'm trying to break); other times I make myself notes for later regarding what I'll need to revise.  After my first draft is finished, I let my work sit for a few weeks (assuming I have the time).  When my eyes have refreshed sufficiently, I reread my story and note what changes should be made.  I will usually fix small errors as I go.  After I have a list of changes to be made, I make those changes.  After I have my second draft, I read through the story again and repeat until I have my third draft.  Then my fourth.  Then my fifth.  Some of my stories look very similar to their original forms, while others are barely recognizable.

For nonfiction, my editing steps are much the same as my steps for fiction.  The main exceptions are that I usually don't have alpha/beta readers and I don't often wait more than a few days before making edits.  For something like a blog post, edits often take place a few minutes after I've finished my last sentence.  If I were trying to get something published professionally I would probably adopt a system closer to that which I use for my stories.  I don't think the changes would quite compare to those that I've made over the past four years for a certain story though.  It is also virtually unheard of for me to note future revisions while I write a nonfiction piece.

The way I have written about my editing process may make it seem like an actual procession of actions that I adopt for each piece.  This is deceiving.  While my process is very loosely the same each time, I don't force myself to use any particular method.  Sometimes I print my manuscripts out and write notes on the paper.  Other times I do everything on the computer, adding notes in red type within red brackets.  Often I take notes with pencil on paper as I read from my laptop.  It's a little different every time.  For this process I leave a big disclaimer: results may vary.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Subgenres of SF

I hope to do reviews of sci-fi and fantasy stories professionally some day.  In writing these reviews, I often define the subgenre of particular stories.  As far as I can remember, I've never written a post describing the subgenres of sci-fi, but I have posted about fantasy twice.  The more recent, far better post can be found here.  Today I would like to detail just the four main types of sci-fi prose: hard SF, military SF, soft SF, and space opera.

Hard SF is also defined as technological sci-fi.  This is the most common use of the subgenre.  Hard SF emphasizes science, particularly the "hard" sciences or natural sciences.  These include chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and others.  Technology is not a required aspect to a hard SF story, though most stories of the subgenre deal with it.  One story I'll be reviewing for class has its scientific bases in zoology.  I consider the story hard SF (though it's a blend with contemporary fantasy).  In hard SF, the facts behind the science are crucial; however, because these stories are often projected far into the future, the science only needs to be plausible.  Analog Science Fiction and Fact is perhaps the most prestigious magazine for and most frequent publisher of hard SF.

Military SF is well-named.  It's science fiction that focuses on militaries.  Usually the protagonist is a soldier, though this is not a hard requirement.  Military SF is fairly rare, though not as rare as one might think.  Even in sci-fi stories that aren't strictly military, war and combat are frequent elements.  Military SF exists on a spectrum from space opera to hard SF.  Sometimes you get unlikely aliens and what seems like magic, while other times you get detailed explanations of the physics behind a soaring missile.  When well-written, military SF gives us fantastic romps.  As far as I know, there aren't any major publishers who focus on military SF.  Stories in this subgenre appear sporadically.

Soft SF has many clarified names.  It can be psychological SF, philosophical SF, or sociological SF.  The borders of soft SF are blurry.  Soft SF is supposed to be at least somewhat focused on science, most typically the "soft" sciences or social sciences.  The humanities can also lend themselves to soft SF.  It is unclear where stories with little "soft" implications and some "hard" implications should be placed.  Most of those stories will end up being either military SF or some blend of sci-fi and fantasy, but that is not always the case.  Soft SF seems to be attributed to stories less often than the other main subgenres of sci-fi.  Sometimes stories in the gray region are coupled with true soft SF under the nondescript name of "sci-fi."  True soft SF is the sort of stuff that makes you question what you know about yourself, society, and even existence.  It can show you what's inside your head, describe society better than most literary fiction, or present a deep philosophical question.  Orson Scott Card's books Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind (sequels to Ender's Game) are excellent examples of soft SF.

Because it hasn't really changed since I wrote about it before, I'm just going to quote my post about fantasy subgenres to describe space opera, since realistically it's a blend: "Space opera is where the line between fantasy and science-fiction blurs. Some consider it fantasy, others science-fiction. Star Wars and Star Trek are both considered space opera. Science as we know it is completely disregarded on multiple planets in both settings, which some argue makes space opera a subgenre of fantasy. The often futuristic settings of space opera stories make them appear to be science-fiction. To be fair, space opera can be regarded as a subgenre of both science-fiction and fantasy."

Science fiction has far fewer subgenres than fantasy.  Part of the reason for this is that fantasy is a much larger concept.  The other part is that the boxes we have built for sci-fi are quite large.  Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to break these subgenres up into better classifications, other than to separate them out into biological SF, sociological SF, etc.  This wouldn't actually help very much because stories that blend would still blend.  My rule of thumb is that if I can't put a subgenre to a story I don't; I just call it "sci-fi" and leave it at that.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Reviews

Reviews play an important role in the publishing industry.  Their primary function is as a marketing tool.  Glowing reviews are quoted and put on or in books to help them sell.  Positive reviews on Amazon (and the like) promote the sale of books, whereas negative reviews denounce the sales.  Published critical reviews are also residual marketing tools.  They examine the quality of a work critically and influence sales/exposure indirectly.  The type of review I write is similar to these reviews.

I call my reviews "literary criticisms."  If you click the tag of that name on this site, you'll be able to read the dozens of literary criticisms that I have written.  These criticisms are almost invariably written in the same format.  The outline I have chosen is based upon what I believe is most important about stories.

My criticisms are not analyses like you might find in a literature class.  I really don't care much about sub-text unless it's right beneath the surface.  If it isn't clear, it isn't there.  Theme and "meaning" can be very important, but only insofar as they are properly displayed by the three main aspects of any story: plot, setting, and characters.

The first paragraph of my criticisms is an introduction.  I usually give the title of the work I'm criticizing, the name of the author, the length of the work, and where the work came from.  Typically I'll give some indication of what I thought of the work as well.  The next three paragraphs deal with plot, setting, and characters.  The order varies depending upon what jumps out at me the most.  I try to position my paragraphs to allow the best transitions possible.  Ideally, the plot, setting, and characters of a story are interwoven so tightly that I can transition from any of them to any of the others and then over to the third; if this isn't the case, I will place the two paragraphs with connections to one another next to each other.  Sometimes the body of my critiques will get a fourth paragraph.  That forth paragraph is used if I have something specific to say about the prose (the words, the authorial voice, the style) of the work.  For most stories I will give a quick remark or two about the prose in the first or last paragraph and leave it at that, but for some stories the prose either makes the work immensely better or immensely poorer.  My final paragraph comments on what I wrote prior to that point.  I often give the work a grade, such as 95%, and then I provide some means of finding the work if I haven't already.

I don't read a lot of critical reviews, but I should.  I would really like to write some some day within a professional capacity.  Two of my reviews appeared in the High School Highlights section of the Somerset Daily American during my high school career (one for the movie Gravity and the other for the novella Perfect State); however, I was not paid for either.  It's not truly professional unless money changes hands.  In any case, I hope that if I am able to write reviews professionally some day, that I will be allowed to use the format that I currently use.  Why would I use it if I didn't think it was the best?